Henry VI, Part 2 | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Henry VI, Part 2 | Plot Summary

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Summary

Act 1

Margaret of Anjou is crowned Queen of England, formally inaugurating a truce between England and France. King Henry is overjoyed to finally meet his bride and welcomes the prospect of peace between the two nations. The Duke of Gloucester, however, reacts with grief and anger to the truce, which he sees as undermining England's interests abroad. The Duke of York reveals to the audience that he now sees himself as rightful king of England, though he intends to bide his time before attempting to seize the crown.

Meanwhile, the Duchess of Gloucester harbors royal ambitions of her own. Seeking a means to overthrow Henry and install her husband as king, she enlists Sir John Hume to arrange a ritual in which she will consult a spirit about England's future. Hume, however, is a double agent, hired by the Duke of Suffolk and Cardinal Beaufort to discredit the duchess. On the day of the ritual the Duke of York leads a raid on the Gloucester residence, arresting the duchess and her accomplices.

Act 2

News of the duchess's arrest reaches King Henry and Queen Margaret while they are visiting Saint Albans. The cardinal, Gloucester's archenemy, gloats over the disgrace to the duke's household, but Gloucester promises not to shield his wife from the law. At her trial the Duchess of Gloucester is sentenced to banishment for dabbling in the occult; her conspirators are sentenced to death. In a secret meeting York recruits the earls of Salisbury and Warwick as supporters of his claim to the throne.

Act 3

King Henry convenes a parliament at Bury St. Edmunds, with all his high-ranking noblemen in attendance. Suffolk accuses Gloucester of treason, and Henry allows him to be arrested by the cardinal's men. Before a trial can be arranged, however, Gloucester is found murdered in his bedchamber. All signs point to Suffolk, whom Henry banishes—thereby plunging Queen Margaret (Suffolk's lover) into a deep melancholy. Seized by a sudden sickness, the cardinal falls into a delirious trance from which he never recovers. His deathbed ravings confirm that he, too, played a role in Gloucester's death.

Act 4

Suffolk is killed by pirates while attempting to sail for France. Jack Cade, working at York's behest, leads a rebellion of peasants and workingmen against King Henry. At first the rebels enjoy considerable success, making it to the middle of London and seizing the Tower before they are stopped by the king's forces. Then, however, the king offers a pardon to Cade's followers, compelling them to abandon their leader en masse. Cade, now a fugitive, escapes to his home county of Kent and dies pathetically at the hands of a country gentleman who finds him trespassing in his garden. Just as Cade's rebellion is dying down, York returns from a conveniently timed military expedition in Ireland. With his army still behind him, he marches on Killingworth Castle, where King Henry awaits.

Act 5

York meets King Henry in the fields southeast of London and demands to be acknowledged as the rightful king. Henry is stunned by York's disloyalty and refuses to relinquish the crown. Seeing that war is inevitable, noblemen on both sides of the dispute begin mustering their troops for battle. Their armies meet at Saint Albans, with York and his faction winning a decisive victory over the king's forces. King Henry, Queen Margaret, and their party flee for London, with the Yorkists not far behind.

Henry VI, Part 2 Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Henry marries Margaret of Anjou, securing peace with France.

Rising Action

2 York reveals his ambitions of ruling England.

3 Gloucester is pressured into resigning as Lord Protector.

4 Gloucester is arrested for treason, then assassinated.

5 York leaves for Ireland to quash a rebellion.

6 Jack Cade leads a revolt against King Henry.

Climax

7 York returns with his army and demands the crown.

Falling Action

8 York defeats Henry at the Battle of Saint Albans.

Resolution

9 King Henry and his supporters flee for London.

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